European Commissioner for Development
Achieving the MDGs and looking to the future
At the European Parliament's DEVE Committee / Brussels
9 October 2012
Madam Chair, Honourable Members, Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Many thanks to the DEVE Committee for your kind invitation
to speak to you about "achieving the MDGs and looking
to the future". This issue is set to feature highly in
the international development debate. Indeed, UN
Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon has set up a High-Level Panel
to look at the future development agenda.
I am delighted that Mr Ban has asked me to serve on the
panel, for two reasons in particular. First, because
meeting the MDGs and building on their legacy is a key
priority for me; and second, because my appointment
reflects the high regard in which the EU's development
ethos is held around the world. The EU now has a golden
opportunity to help shape the post-MDG future.
Post-MDGs; three pillars of a Decent Life for All
It is a future in which we have rid the world of desperate
And it does not have to be as far away as we might think.
In fact, I would put it to you that we can rid the world of
desperate poverty within a generation. I am convinced that
we can build on the amazing progress that the MDGs have
enabled us to make in order to do this. The only question
we need to ask ourselves is: do we really want to do it?
And the only answer, of course, is a resounding YES.
Therefore, the high-level panel's first task must be to
inspire a step-change in MDG achievement between now and
2015, with poverty eradication remaining our main focus.
Then, looking further ahead, the MDGs should act as a
springboard towards greater progress beyond 2015.
I'd like to take a moment here to share with you some
of my initial thinking on what a future development agenda
could look like - or, more specifically, which issues it
ought to address.
Since the MDGs were discussed and agreed in the late 1990s,
the world has undergone extraordinary change. It has
changed economically, financially and technologically, but
also politically. For instance, we have all seen how
quickly a country, given good governance and intelligent
support, can move from desperately poor to middle income
status. I therefore believe the conditions are in place to
enable us to eliminate poverty within the next generation.
When the MDGs were set, to suggest a target to completely
eliminate global poverty in a single generation would
probably have been viewed as naïve. Not so today - and this
shows quite how far we have come in such a short space of
This progress is due, not least, to the success of the MDGs
and the response to their challenges, not just by donors
such as the EU, but above all by so many of the developing
countries that have used the MDGs as a baseline and guide
for their own national plans.
The elimination of poverty must therefore to be at the very
centre of our future work, and our first and overriding
priority and focus.
However, I think that we can - and should - go even further
Given these global advances and the opportunities that
technology brings us, we should not limit our ambitions to
tackling issues of material and human poverty in their
narrowest sense. Naturally, such issues, on which the MDGs
largely focus, are of enormous importance in themselves;
but they will not provide a decent life for all.
And it is this that I believe should be the key goal or
vision underpinning our work: namely, how to guarantee a
Decent Life for All by 2030.
In the late 1990s, for very good reasons, the MDGs were
seen as a tool focused on the world's poorest. Yet
today, citizens across the whole world, both in rich and
middle income countries, are also increasingly touched by
issues that require global answers - issues central to
guaranteeing them a decent life. Furthermore, in many
wealthy regions of the world, including our own, we have
many very poor citizens.
A framework of personal relevance to all, generating a real
feeling of "inclusiveness", would be a powerful
To find answers to these challenges and move ahead in a
post-MDG world, the Commission has held a wide-ranging
public consultation across Europe, which closed recently.
With more than a hundred substantial contributions, it is
clear that European citizens strongly support the MDGs and
greatly value the development policy and commitment shown
across the EU. They continue to support our high levels of
ODA spending, even during these difficult times at home.
Furthermore, EU citizens are keen to see a new framework
that takes the work forward into the future.
Many have said that one key shortcoming in terms of missing
or weak areas is that the MDGs did not tackle the root
causes of poverty, including conflict, economic growth,
governance and anti-corruption, decent work and social
protection, population dynamics, and climate change
Bearing all this in mind, I suggest that under the core
vision of a "Decent Life for All" we should focus
on three key pillars:
First, updated and modernised MDGs, providing decent living
standards for all - a set of minimum floors below which no
one should fall. It is clear that poverty eradication
remains an absolute priority.
These "MDGs plus" would provide the basic rights
that every citizen on the planet should expect and demand
from their governments at the very latest by 2030, with,
where necessary, for the poorest countries, the support of
the international community through continued ODA.
Second, as we are all aware, the MDGs alone will not
guarantee a decent life. Without dignity, poverty remains.
So our second pillar would focus on the drivers for
prosperity, creating jobs and guaranteeing justice, equity
and human rights.
And third, we all know that we are living today, quite
If we go on like this, when faced with a global population
of 9 billion by 2050, together with increased demand of 50%
for food and of 40% for energy, we will simply undo much of
the progress thus far achieved, and impoverish future
I do not underestimate the difficulties in addressing this
question, and the results and follow-up to Rio+20 will be
crucial. But it has to be tackled.
I would therefore suggest that the third pillar might focus
on "good stewardship" of natural resources.
Every government must have its own obligations towards its
citizens in terms of the good stewardship of its own
precious natural resources, from forests to fossil fuels,
from minerals to soil.
More than this, however, good stewardship might also cover
the sound use of income from natural resources and
managing, reducing or indeed eliminating their depletion.
Taken together, and defined through clear goals and targets
to which every citizen can personally relate, irrespective
of where they live, and which they can use to hold their
governments to account, these three pillars could provide a
framework that could provide everyone with a Decent Life
As President Barroso said recently, we in Europe are
privileged to live in one of the most decent societies the
world has ever seen.
We should be deeply proud of this, and use the post-MDGs as
a platform for spreading these values, helping those who
look to the EU for leadership.
Meeting the existing MDGs - MFF
In the meantime, it goes without saying that we must also
remain focused on meeting the existing MDGs.
The MDGs have been a success story, and the EU, true to
form, has been their greatest supporter. They have
heightened the political focus on poverty and indeed, the
number of people living in absolute poverty has decreased
by 600 million since 1990.
We have a great deal of which we can be proud. But
we're not there yet. The MDGs leave us with unfinished
Above all, the goals only aim to reach parts of the poor or
the hungry, not all of them; and progress has been uneven.
In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, under-five mortality
rates are still twice as high as in the next poorest
Our immediate priority, then, has to be one last and
committed push to meet the existing MDGs.
We will continue to press hard right up to the 2015
deadline, especially in countries and sectors that are most
off track. Extra funding like the 1 billion euro MDG
Initiative shows just how committed the EU is to seeing our
MDG efforts through to the very end.
The MDG Initiative also shows that, alongside smart
policy-making, we need proper financing to back it up. And
for that we need the support of this House. I know that
like me - and like the Europeans who responded to our
consultation - you appreciate the continuing importance
that ODA in helping partner countries achieve their 2015
and post-2015 targets. However, we also understand that, in
the post-2015 environment, other factors - including
remittances, growth-friendly policies and trade - will have
their own roles to play in bringing about a fairer
distribution of resources across the developed and
That's why, for instance, while doubling its collective
aid in real terms since 2000, the EU is also the main
importer of developing country exports and the only major
economy to give duty- and quota-free access to Least
We must maintain these commitments. We must maintain and
promote our core European values, both at home and abroad.
And we must demonstrate to the EU's citizens and
taxpayers that the large amounts we spend on development
assistance are producing the maximum possible results.
Let me state clearly once again that I take the
responsibility of spending European taxpayers'
hard-earned money on development assistance very seriously
indeed. The fact that times are tough here in Europe is
reason enough for us to be spending wisely. But let me
reassure you that I would be just as strict with our
resources today if we were in the middle of an economic
We are already doing well in this regard. The EU is widely
recognised by independent bodies as a very effective donor.
Only last week "Publish What You Fund" watchdog
singled the European Commission out for leading on aid
transparency internationally and internally and ranked it
among the top 5 most transparent donors in the world.
So there is a widespread understanding among fellow aid
practitioners that the EU brings clear added value to
development cooperation - in short, that EU aid works. Aid
groups back EU development funding as among the world's
best and would like to see it maintained in the EU's
next seven-year financial framework to take us up to 2020.
For me, being "among the world's best" is
good - but it's not good enough. I started my
professional career as a teacher. The EU's school
report for its development policy would say something like:
"Much good work done - could do even better". EU
development policy can deliver more and better value for
money. The EU must be the star pupil that others look to
No one ever improved by standing still. The world is still
changing, and changing fast - and if we are to be the best,
we must change with it.
To its credit, the EU has recognised that as a major
trading block, leading political player and the biggest
donor of development assistance in the world, it cannot
afford to be a spectator - but must instead help shape the
new world order.
An outward-looking Europe with adequate financial means,
promoting its values and interests and taking an active
political role in global governance, can deliver real added
The alternative would be a Europe with no voice and with no
influence in the world.
The Lisbon Treaty defines an ambitious framework for EU
external action and clearly sets out poverty reduction as
the overriding aim of EU development policy.
The next financial framework must ensure that the EU meets
these ambitions. Therefore, the Commission has boldly
proposed increased funding for an external relations
package composed of nine instruments.
The proposed amounts would contribute to the EU's
formal collective commitment to dedicate 0.7% of our GNI to
ODA by 2015, and thus be a decisive step towards achieving
the Millennium Development Goals.
The Commission's package of proposals reflects the new
international context and the need for greater impact and
results from external spending. For instance, while the
architecture of instruments will not alter radically, there
will be changes to how these instruments are used.
In development terms we have to channel funding and
technical assistance into areas where development policy
can have a comparative advantage and bring real added
value. Indeed, higher impact and more and better results
lie at the heart of our Agenda for Change. I am convinced
that turning the Agenda for Change into action on the
ground will provide better and more visible value for money
for EU taxpayers.
For this reason, we will be more strategic. We will channel
support into no more than three sectors in a country and
focus on large, meaningful and targeted actions. And we
will target resources to the poorest and neediest, and
where they can have the greatest impact, while offering
other relevant forms of strategic cooperation to more
advanced countries with enough resources to finance their
With public funds under strain, innovative financial
instruments such as grant/loan blending will enable us to
combine EU grant resources with additional flows to gain
leverage and could make otherwise costly large
infrastructure projects possible.
And in the interests of efficiency and impact, we will seek
to make our actions simpler and more flexible.
All in all, I believe we have the principles and
instruments needed for an EU development policy that is at
once more effective, more transparent and more
outcomes-oriented; a policy that seeks greater aid
effectiveness, policy coherence and donor coordination; a
policy of the kind that this House has rightly called for.
But we will have nothing to show for these principles and
instruments unless we have the right funding to make them
work for poverty eradication and lasting development in our
partner countries. And we look to the European Parliament
to show its support for our development cooperation aims by
supporting our funding proposals for external action under
the next MFF.
The MDG framework provides a good departure point for our
future development agenda; however, it must be an agenda
that reflects new realities. And our central concern should
be that the fight against poverty is by no means won.
We need first and foremost to listen carefully both to the
experiences of those who have succeeded, and to the
aspirations of those who have not.
With 2015 still some distance away, the process that we
embark on will matter for the end result. We need to
consider the outcomes and follow up of Rio+20, as well as
other international processes, and bear in mind that we
should end up with an agenda that everyone is willing to
sign up to.
In this respect the EU has first and foremost to get its
own house in order, and with the Agenda for Change I
believe we have the right policy directions in place to be
able to contribute to such a global agenda. In the
Commission's MFF proposals we have suggested a level of
resources which is ambitious, but which is also achievable
and necessary. For this is no time for us to be turning our
backs on the world.
Indeed, with a sound financial framework in place to take
us up to 2020, we will be able to set about meeting our
development goals in earnest. This process will include an
active role for the EU in the global debate on development
In the more immediate future, it will involve investing
responsibly in sustainable development and lasting
opportunity for all people in our partner countries. In
this way we will be giving the world's poorest and most
vulnerable a real chance to escape the spiral of poverty
and insecurity and participate in society to the best of
their ability. And the benefits to them and to us in the
long term will far outweigh the investment we make now.